Musings of the Past

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.

A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The FillmoreThe Beacon TheaterThe ApolloThe Hollywood BowlCandlestick ParkWinterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)

U2/In God’s Country (1987)

– End-

This post was originally published on July 1, 2017. The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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My Playlist: Meat Loaf

As widely reported by the media, Meat Loaf passed away last week at the age of 74. Instead of writing another obituary that really wouldn’t add anything to what already has been revealed, I decided to primarily focus this post on music and put together a playlist of his songs I dig. I was actually surprised how many I know. If you feel like reading a traditional obituary, here’s a pretty good one published in The New York Times.

Before we get to music, I’d like to provide a bit of background, so I guess there’s a similarity to an obituary. Meat Loaf was born Michael Lee Aday on September 27, 1947, in Dallas, Texas. He was the only child of Wilma Artie (née Hukel), a school teacher and member of a girls gospel quartet, and Orvis Wesley Aday, a former police officer who went into business selling a homemade cough remedy with his wife and a friend.

Meat Loaf Should Have Had Two Parts in The Rocky Horror Picture Show | Den  of Geek
Meat Loaf as Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

During his high school years, Aday appeared in various school stage productions. In the late ’60s, he relocated from Dallas to Los Angeles and formed his first band, Meat Loaf Soul, after a nickname his football coach had given him because of his weight. The band subsequently adopted different names and opened up for well-known acts like The Who, The Stooges and Grateful Dead.

Subsequently, Aday joined the L.A. production of the musical Hair. The resulting publicity led to a Motown-produced album that appeared in October 1971, Stoney and Meatloaf, a collaboration with blues and R&B singer Shaun “Stoney” Murphy. In late 1973, Aday was picked for the original L.A. Roxy cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The musical was turned into a motion picture in 1975 and became a cult film.

How Meat Loaf Met Jim Steinman
Meat Loaf (left) and Jim Steinman

While Aday and his longtime collaborator Jim Steinman had started to work on what became Meat Loaf’s debut solo album Bat Out of Hell in 1972, it took until October 1977 for the record to appear. It was the first in a trilogy of Bat Out of Hell albums, and the first of 12 solo albums Meat Loaf recorded between 1977 and 2016. That shall suffice for the background. Let’s get to some songs. Apart from highlighting various tunes upfront, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist at the end of the post, which includes additional music.

Let’s kick it off with Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul, a great tune from the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack performed by Meat Loaf. Like all other songs from the soundtrack, it was written by  English-New Zealand actor, writer, musician and television presenter Richard O’Brien. Meat Loaf also acted in the film as Eddie, who breaks out of a deep freeze riding a motorcycle, interrupts mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), and gets the Transylvanians dancing and singing the tune. Eddie is then killed with a pickaxe by a jealous Dr. Frank after his creation Rocky had started to dance and enjoyed the performance of Eddie and the Transylvanians. You can watch a clip of Eddie’s appearance here. What a classic!

The Bat Out of Hell album, released in October 1977, includes various great songs. Since I only wanted to call out one here, I decided to go with the title track, a close to 10-minute over-the-top rock opera spectacle written by Steinman. Bat Out of Hell has sold over 43 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful records of all time.

In September 1981, Meat Loaf released his sophomore studio album Dead Ringer. I’ve always dug Dead Ringer for Love. Aday’s duett with Cher also appeared separately as a single released in the UK in November of the same year, where it reached no. 5 in the charts. Surprisingly, if I see this correctly, the tune did not appear as a single in the U.S. Predictably, Dead Ringer could not match the success of Bat Out of Hell.

Wolf at the Door is a tune from Meat Loaf’s third album Midnight at the Lost and Found. Notably, the record did not include any songs written by Steinman due to a dispute between Aday and his longtime collaborator. As such, it had more of a straight pop rock sound compared to the massive rock opera productions by Steinman. Wolf at the Door was penned by his wife Leslie Aday (born Leslie Edmonds) and bassist Steve Buslowe.

For Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, Meat Loaf’s sixth studio album from September 1993, Steinman was back as producer. Predictably, the record marked a return to the heavy operatic sound of Bat Out of Hell. Here’s the epic Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through, which like all other tracks on the album was written by Steinman. Steinman had first included it on his own 1981 solo album Bad for Good, using uncredited Canadian rock vocalist Rory Dodd. While it’s not a bad version, it sounds somewhat timid compared to Meat Loaf’s melodramatic rendition. The single did pretty well in the charts, reaching no. 13 and no. 11 in the U.S. and UK, respectively, as well as no. 4 and no. 4 in Canada and New Zealand, though its performance paled that of I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That), which topped the charts in all of these countries. Yes, it’s an over-the-top rock & roll dream, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

Couldn’t Have Said It Better is the title track of Meat Loaf’s eighth studio album that appeared in September 2003. It was another record without any song written by Jim Steinman. While according to Wikipedia, Meat Loaf said it was his best album since Bat Out of Hell, once again, the record couldn’t match the enormous success of his solo debut – not really much of a shock to me. The record did best in the UK where it peaked at no. 4 and in Germany where it reached no. 8. In the U.S., it got to no. 85 on the Billboard 200.

The final tune I’d like to call out is from Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, the last in the trilogy, and Meat Loaf’s ninth studio album released in October 2006. While it was produced by Desmond Child, making it the only Bat album not produced by Jim Steinman, Steinman wrote half of the songs. This includes the power ballad It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, a duett Meat Loaf performed with Norwegian singer-songwriter Marion Raven. It was Meat Loaf’s last single to enjoy significant chart success, including in Norway where it hit no 1, as well as the UK and Germany, where it reached no. 6 and no. 7, respectively.

Following is a playlist featuring most of the above tracks and some additional tunes. Spotify did not have the Bat Out of Hell III and Couldn’t Have Said It Better albums. Peace on Earth from Meat Loaf’s 10th studio album Hang Cool Teddy Bear was only available as a live version.

Love him for many of his catchy songs, or hate him for his oftentimes theatric over-the-top productions, there can be no doubt Meat Loaf was a pretty unique artist who combined rock music and acting in his shows. And he was remarkably successful, even though health issues had sidelined him during the last five to seven years of his life.

Only his Bat Out of Hell trilogy has sold more than 65 million albums worldwide, mostly stemming from the first record. Combined sales of all of his albums exceed 100 million worldwide. The Bat Out of Hell album remained in the charts for more than nine years. After more than 40 years since its release, it still sells an estimated 200,000 copies annually.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 21

Dare I say it, it looks like my irregularly recurring music history feature is becoming more frequent. But with nearly 300 dates left to cover, I still have a long way to go, so it’s safe to assume this series won’t end anytime soon. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the events in music that happened on January 21 over the past six decades or so. I would also like to briefly acknowledge the untimely death of operatic rock artist Meat Loaf, which was reported overnight. He was believed to have been 74 years old. The cause of death has not been revealed.

1963: Since nearly everything in my little music world starts or finishes with The Beatles, let’s get this bloody item out of the way. According to The Beatles Bible, the ultimate source of truth about the band, On this day The Beatles appeared on the EMI plug show The Friday Spectacular, at EMI House, 20 Manchester Square, London. They chatted to hosts Shaw Taylor and Muriel Young, and studio recordings of ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why’ were played. The show was recorded before an audience of around 100 teenagers, and was broadcast live on Radio Luxembourg. The overwhelming crowd size tells you this was still pre-Beatlemania. Though their press officer Tony Barrow said that during the recording, “I was finally convinced that The Beatles were about to enjoy the type of top-flight national fame which I had always believed that they deserved.” Side note: Three years later on that same date, George Harrison married his first wife Pattie Boyd, with Paul McCartney serving as best man.

1966: The Trips Festival, a three-day landmark event in the development of psychedelic music, kicked off at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco. According to Songfacts Music History Calendar, Produced by Ken Kesey, Ramon Sender, and Stewart Brand, the event is largely recognized as the first to bring together what would be called the “hippie” movement. The sold-out festival, which drew 10,000 people, featured the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, among others. And some 6,000 people drinking punch spiked with LSD, who witnessed one of the first fully developed light shows of the era. I also found this trippy clip!

1978: Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack album of the 1977 motion picture starring John Travolta, stood at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first of 24 weeks on top of the U.S. mainstream chart. It also reached no. 1 in Canada, the UK, Australia and many other countries. Saturday Night Fever became one of the best-selling albums in music history. With more than 40 million copies sold worldwide, it remains the second-biggest selling soundtrack of all time after The Bodyguard. But, as oftentimes is the case, what goes up must come down. Not even three years later, the Bee Gees, the group most associated with the soundtrack and disco, called it quits, finding themselves caught in the furious backlash toward disco including bomb threats – something you could sadly picture nowadays as well! I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care whether you call Bee Gees music disco, R&B, disco-influenced or anything else – I dig it!

1984: British progressive rock stalwarts Yes hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Owner of a Lonely Heart. Co-written by band members Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Jon Anderson (lead vocals) and Chris Squire (bass vocals), together with co-producer Trevor Horn, the catchy pop rocker was first released in October 1983 as the lead single for the group’s 11th studio album 90125, which came out the following month. Owner of the Lonely Heart became Yes’s first and only no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream chart. It also did well in Europe, especially in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 2. While earlier singles like Yours Is No Disgrace, Roundabout and And You and I are great songs as well, they simply weren’t radio-friendly. Yes, Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

1987: Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards during the Rock Hall’s second annual induction ceremony. Here’s what the Rock Hall posted on their website: Lady Soul. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin was an artist of passion, sophistication and command, whose recordings remain anthems that defined soul music. Long live the Queen. And here are The Rolling Stones guitarist’s live remarks from that night – let’s just say it was a classic Keith Richards speech!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Can you believe we’ve reached the first Sunday in December? Soon those who celebrate will be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ before we all kiss this dreadful second pandemic year goodbye – fuck COVID! Sorry, usually I don’t swear, but I just needed to get this off my chest! On a more upbeat note, this also means it’s time to embark on another music journey. How do you like that transition? And, yes, I’ve put together another eclectic set of six tunes. Come on, hop on board and fugetabout the stupid virus, at least for some time!

Glenn Miller and his Orchestra/Moonlight Serenade

I’d like to start with a timeless jazz classic that takes us back all the way to 1939. When for some reason, Moonlight Serenade randomly came to my mind the other day, I immediately decided the beautiful swing ballad by Glenn Miller would make for a great Sunday Six opener. According to Songfacts, the tune’s origins date back to 1935 and a song titled As I Lay Me Down to Weep, with music by Miller and lyrics by Eddie Heyman. The tune wasn’t recorded at the time, but in 1938, the music became the theme of Miller’s radio broadcasts on NBC. The following year, when Miller who by then had his own band recorded a song called Sunrise Serenade, publisher Robbins Music suggested that he pair it with Moonlight Serenade to make it a theme. Moonlight Serenade was the original As I Lay Me Down to Weep with different lyrics. Miller kept the title but decided to record the music only – smart decision! When it appeared in May 1939, Moonlight Serenade became an immediate sensation and Miller’s signature song. And here we are, 82 years later!

Meat Loaf/Bat Out of Hell

In case Moonlight Serenade put you in a sleepy mood it’s time to wake up, as we jump to October 1977. Bat Out of Hell is the title of the debut album by Michael Lee Aday known as Meat Loaf. The album was produced by Todd Rundgren and written by Jim Steinman. It was based on the musical Neverland, a futuristic rock version of Peter Pan Steinman had written in 1974. Wikipedia notes the album’s musical style reflected Steinman’s fondness of Richard Wagner, Phil Spector, Bruce Springsteen and The Who. Not only did Bat Out of Hell become one of the best-selling records of all time, but it also marked the start of a successful long-term collaboration between Aday and Steinman. Sadly, Steinman passed away at the age of 73 in April this year. Meat Loaf’s most recent studio album Braver Than We Are dates back to December 2016. He was sidelined by back surgeries thereafter. But just last month on his Facebook, he announced a new album for 2022. Even though Bat Out of Hell like pretty much all Meat Loaf songs I’ve heard is a massive production, it’s just an incredible tune.

Percy Sledge/When a Man Loves a Woman

After Meat Loaf’s rock inferno let’s slow things down again with a beautiful soul ballad by Percy Sledge. Co-written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, When a Man Loves a Woman was first recorded by the R&B, soul and gospel singer and released in March 1966. The tune hit no. 1 in the U.S. on both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles charts. The title track of Sledge’s debut album also topped the charts in Canada and reached no. 4 in the UK. When a Man Loves a Woman became his signature song. I just don’t get tired of this tune, which is one of my favorite ballads.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd/Blue On Black

My next pick is by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Southern rock-flavored Blue On Black was included on the then-20-year-old blues rock guitarist and singer-songwriter’s sophomore album Trouble Is… from October 1997. It was his first record that appeared under the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band moniker. Blue On Black, co-written by Shepherd, Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, became his most successful U.S. chart hit to date, topping the Mainstream Rock chart and reaching no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In contrast, Shepherd’s records have enjoyed huge success on the Top Blues Albums chart, where eight of the nine albums he has released thus far hit no. 1. Shepherd is only 44 years old, so we can hopefully look forward to many more years of great music from him.

The Romantics/Talking in Your Sleep

I can hear the secrets that you keep/When you’re talking in your sleep…I always liked the lyrics of this song by The Romantics. The catchy pop rocker from September 1983 became the biggest hit of the American new wave band that was founded in Detroit in 1977. Credited to all of the group’s five members – Coz Canler (lead guitar, vocals), Wally Palmar (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), Pete Solley (keyboards), Mike Skill (bass, rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Jimmy Marinos (drums, lead vocals, percussion) – Talking in Your Sleep was the lead single off their fourth studio album In Heat that appeared at the same time. Luckily for the talkative dreamer, she only has sweet things to say about her lover who lies right next to her in bed. The song topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the charts in Canada. It also became a top 30 hit in various other countries, including Australia (no. 14), Germany (no. 18), The Netherlands (no. 24) and Switzerland (no. 20). The Romantics remain active to this day, with Palmar, Sill and Cole being part of the present four-piece that since 1994 has also included Brad Elvis (drums, percussion). How many other bands can you name that have been around for some 44 years with their initial line-up largely intact?

Neil Young/The Painter

And once again we’ve reached the final stop of our Sunday music time travel. Why pick a seemingly arbitrary Neil Young tune? Why not! In fact, that’s kind of the point of The Sunday Six. Anything goes anytime as long as I dig it. The Painter is the opening track of Young’s 26th studio album Prairie Wind that appeared in September 2005. The record’s acoustic-oriented sound is reminiscent of Harvest Moon (1992) and Harvest (1972), which are both among my favorite Neil Young albums. While Prairie Wind doesn’t quite match the two aforementioned records, it still became one of Young’s most successful albums in the later stage of his remarkable 58-year-and-counting career. Like all other tunes on the album, The Painter was written by Young. BTW, speaking of his longevity, Young is coming out with a new album, Barn, on December 10, which he recorded with his longtime backing band Crazy Horse.

* This post has been updated to reflect that Blue On Black was co-written by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, not Shepherd, Danny Tate and Sillers, as had been stated initially.

Source: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube